Sometimes you just need to laugh …


This is the glass door I ran into on my first morning in a new office.  Five minutes after I arrived.  And I had to laugh at myself!  “Way to go brainiac.  Good thing no one was watching that one.”  Then I giggled.

Messing up, making mistakes, looking stupid in front of others – these are things that often cause people to put up walls around themselves as a means of self preservation.  No one wants other people to look at them and roll their eyes.  No one wants to be “that person.”  Unfortunately, the need to self preserve hinders a team’s ability to be transparent, take risks, and share ideas openly.

As a scrum master or coach we need to be aware of the human nature that says, “protect yourself,” and help develop a culture of safety so team members can learn to trust one another and bring out the best in one another.  Part of the scrum master’s role is to help the team have the best communications possible.  Safe discussions in a team happen when everyone’s ideas are valued and respected.  Great ideas come forth when no single idea has to be the winner.  Instead of allowing people to fight for their position like there is a trophy at stake, teach them how each person can contribute to the ideas of the others and build the best solution for the problem at hand so everyone can win.

Facilitating brainstorming sessions can help a team to foster the ability to throw a bunch of thoughts together and safely come up with the best solution possible.  Help them dream a little using post it notes, index cards, or white boards since all of these are easily disposable.  No ideas are out of bounds.  If you had no constraints how could you solve this problem? Everyone throw out at least 3 ways we could solve this problem – include at least one logical, one risky, and one fun resolution.  This is your timebox – Go!  Once every serious, crazy, risky, and logical thought is on the table the team can review them all and dream and laugh together.

The premise of this method is that no one holds too tightly to any ideas.  Having them throw in multiple resolutions that include the outrageous and risky along with the logical helps them to have contributions that they know we may decide not to use.   What can be really amazing is when an idea that the contributing person thought was dumb or outrageous is just what the team needs to move forward.  Using this process teaches the team to put every option on the table.  Then, sort through those to see what pieces they can put together or add to in order to solve their problem.  The ones that don’t fit into the best solution just get set aside and the best solution wins.

Don’t underestimate the power of laughter.  An individual who can laugh at themselves can learn that they don’t have to prove that they are the smartest person in the room.  A team that can laugh together can dream together safely.    A team that dreams together relies on the collective wisdom of the whole.

Oh … by the way… this … is the second door I ran into … on the afternoon of my first day!



We all need a little help sometimes …



To many travelers this just looked like a moving walkway in an airport in Philly, PA.  To me, it looked like exactly what I needed!  Exhausted from being on the road and meeting a bunch of new people over the past few weeks, the thought of having this thing hold the weight of my bags and help me get across this big airport was very comforting.

After my amazing, but slow ride I started thinking…these walkways are like Scrum Masters!

Sometimes agile teams need a little bit of help.  They get stuck in the same cycle of thinking when trying to solve problems and can’t seem to move forward.  The scrum master is helps them by asking powerful questions that cause them to think in new ways.  They gently lift them up and help them move successfully from one place to another.

Sometimes the team has things blocking their path.  The scrum master jumps in and starts clearing the way for them when they don’t have the power or energy to move forward on their own.

Sometimes teams don’t know how to collaborate well and just communicating among a bunch of personalities gets to be a heavy burden.  Scrum masters remove the burden by facilitating scrum events and helping to ensure that everyone on the team has an equal voice.

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to step into a scrum master role for a while where I can have direct impact on the success of a few teams.

Focus Forward



While working in Burlington, Vermont these past two weeks and experiencing temperatures as low as -14 I have learned some things about inspecting and adapting.  The first day I was here, I inspected my toes and they were freezing so I adapted by buying wool socks.  Then, I learned the next day that wool socks work better if you wear them under cotton socks.  I learned to adapt to my environment by layering clothes in order to stay warm.

By the end of the first week I wasn’t so cold anymore.  It is amazing how quickly I was able to adapt when I changed my focus from how miserable the cold was to how warm layers of clothing can be.  In short, I chose to set down my victim thinking about how freezing I was and pick up my victorious thinking about how comfortable I could be.  I didn’t like my situation so I changed it!  Complaining about it wasn’t making me warmer so I did something productive instead and got warm.

As a professional coach I often encounter people who are stuck.   They have problems that appear to be the thing currently holding them back from what they really want in life.  What they can’t see is that every problem they have is in the past.  Whatever has caused the problem has already occurred.  It’s over.  It can’t be changed.  Focusing on the problem isn’t the answer because you can’t change the past.

My role in the life of my clients is to help them see that the best way to get unstuck is to start right where you are today.  Forget about solving the problem.  Instead focus on what success looks like.  Find the one change you can make to move towards the place you want to be and start moving in that direction.

If you are cold, stop focusing on being cold.  Instead, take a step back and ask yourself how warm you want to be.  What can you do to move in that direction?

If you are unhappy in your current job or financial situation, ask yourself what happiness looks like and what steps you can realistically take to move in that direction.

If you are confused, ask yourself what confidence would feel like in this situation.  What do you need to build that confidence?  Who can help you?  How can you help yourself?  Take a step in that direction.

We all encounter circumstances we hate.  Stuff happens.  But we don’t have to let stuff determine our destiny.  We can move from a today that caught us off guard into a future that we determine and control.  Sometimes today’s stuff is just what we need to project us into a tomorrow that’s better than we ever imagined.

On Taking Chances … and failing


Okay, so the truth is that this picture is not me.  It’s not even Vermont – where I happen to be working and freezing right now!  It’s my cousin Theresa and it’s in Illinois.  She is standing on her Dad’s frozen pond and loving it!  When I saw her post this picture on Facebook all I could say was, “That is so cool!” But other people who viewed the picture were saying things to her like, “Get off there!” and “Are you nuts!” and “OMG you are scaring me!

Experiencing great things in life sometimes means taking risks.  Without risk we will never be as innovative as we could be because we’ll always be playing it safe.  Some people are afraid of taking risks because with risk comes the possibility of failure.  But, mature agile leaders and teams will recognize that failure doesn’t have to be bad.  We learn things through failure that we would never know if we hadn’t tried and flopped.  We learn what we never want to do again and what changes we can make to create a better team or product in the future.

I was really impressed last week when I heard the leader of a new group of people I’m working with talk about risk and failure.  He said, “No one has ever been fired here for making a mistake.  We want you to be innovative.  Sometimes that will mean failure.  If we don’t take chances we’ll never be the best.  You will make mistakes.  We all have.  Just learn from them.  If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t trying hard enough.  Push harder.”

I heard a story about how this same leader handled a major mistake.  A brand new employee (less than a week) pressed the wrong button and brought the entire network down for the company and all of their customers.  It took them a while to figure out how to fix it but eventually they were able to get everyone up and running again.  Customers were angry and the entire ordeal was costly.

The next day this new employee was called into his office.  She was shaking in her boots because she knew that inevitably she would be fired for such a huge mistake.  When she entered his office he looked at her and said, “What did you do?”  She tried to explain and was petrified.  When he realized how scared she was he stopped her and said, “Don’t be afraid.  You aren’t in trouble.  I want to know how you figured out how to bring down the entire system with one click. You exposed a huge vulnerability that we need to address.  Great work!!  This is awesome!  Because of what you found we can make sure this will never happen again.”

You sir, are my hero.